Research Trip to Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, Chickamauga, and Stones River Battlefields

In late May, we made an ambitious two-day swing through Chattanooga and Murfreesboro, Tennessee to trace several Civil War battles that a number of ancestors participated in.  (At this point, I am tracking 9, possibly 12 total Civil War soldiers.)

The plan was to visit Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge in Chattanooga on the morning of the first day, then head to Stones River in Murfreesboro that afternoon.

Surprisingly, especially given that this is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Chattanooga Visitors Center web site and brochure does a very poor job of providing information about the area battlefields, other than to provide an ad for a commercial museum atop Lookout Mountain.  Seems a shame that the local communities and two states can’t work together on helping Civil War history visitors better navigate the area.

Research Notes:

Lookout Mountain Battlefield, Tennessee

  • Lodging:  We stayed at the Chanticleer Inn atop Lookout Mountain.  They had a helpful binder about the history of the mountain; guests can borrow a couple of CD driving tours of the area battlefields.  (We did not do this, as we were checking out that day.)   The inn is a little more expensive than Chattanooga hotels, but it was definitely a nicer experience and a way to spend more time on the mountain.
  • The National Park Service maintains a small museum and visitors center at Point Park.  The rangers (including volunteer Ken Davis) were exceptionally helpful and knowledable, an experience that would be repeated in our visits to NPS visitors centers throughout the trip.  As I read off the list of names and units, one of the rangers was able to recite the area of operations for that unit throughout the war, not just locally.  There is a great exhibit about the battle, including a huge mural Battle Above the Clouds, painted by James Walker.  We spent over an hour there, mostly soaking up the local knowledge of the rangers, and then headed to Point Park.
  • We skipped the Battles of Chattanooga museum next door – for an $8 admission, it didn’t look like there wasn’t anything in there that wasn’t available for free from the Park Service.
  • Safety:  The geography of Lookout Mountain is a series of steep drops and jagged rocks with switchback trails nestled into its side.  There are very few railings along the trails and no safety fences at the edge of the park. Children MUST be closely attended, and everyone should remain mindful of the edge.  Cell phone service is spotty along the trails.  The walk from Point Park down to Cravens House will take about an hour – it’s only close if you choose to fall off the mountain.  Smile  The trails themselves are well-maintained.  Maintain the usual precautions about chiggers, ticks, and snakes.

Surnames: McLane, Phillips, Jordan

Units: 37th Alabama, 41st Tennessee Infantry

Chickamauga Battlefield, Georgia

  • The National Park Service Visitor Center rangers were also very helpful.  The have a a variety of resources for locating the positions of units at various times during the battle.  We purchased a battlefield map that included these references; they are also developing a GPS-based program for locating monuments.
  • Safety: Have I mentioned chiggers and ticks?  Wear long pants and DEET.  One of the monuments we visited was a ways back in the woods and overgrown.

Surnames:  Nettles, Jordan, Watson

Units: 20th Georgia Infantry, 11th Tennessee Cavalry

Missionary Ridge, Tennessee

  • A disappointment.  The battlefield is gone, disappeared under subsequent residential development.  Unless you have a precise idea of the location you’re looking for, it’s a hair-raising experience trying drive through busy traffic to spy monuments amongst tightly packed houses and businesses.  I’m going to do a little more research and we’ll try again on our next trip through the area.

Surnames:  McLane, Phillips, Jordan

Units:  37th Alabama, 41st Tennessee Infantry


Stones River Battlefield, Murfreesboro, TN

  • Lodging:  We stayed at the Doubletree Inn on Old Fort Parkway.  The hotel is clean and very quiet, the staff is helpful, and there are plenty of dining options across the street.  The hotel permits pets.
  • Stones River National Park Service Visitor Center:  another great group of rangers with extensive knowledge.  In this case, we were tracking a single ancestor who was wounded during the battle and subsequently died.  The rangers were able to help us interpret what may have happened to him and pointed us toward some out of print books that may be useful.  The exhibit is very well done; of special note is the uniform of a Confederate soldier that has been conserved and mounted in a darkened case.
  • Much of the battlefield is on private property and built over.  However, the Visitor Center has excellent reference material that orients significant positions and events against modern maps.  We purchased a copy of Blue & Gray V. XXIX Issue 5 which includes this series of color maps.

Surname: Jordan

Unit: 17th Tennessee Regiment